The monster in Frankenstein attempts to receive enlightenment and education from a European ethnocentric perspective. As he recounts his education from the de Lacey family, the monster learns about humanity and language as Felix teaches Safie, the daughter of a Turkish Muslim father. The oriental Safie was instructed by Felix from Volney’s Ruin of Empires and learned about the “manners, governments, and religions of the different nations of the earth” (108). Even the creature’s method of learning was inferior, as he only learned via “minute explanations” and acknowledged that he “should not have understood the purport of this book” (108). By receiving this Eurocentric, westernized education, the creature is internalizing his inferiority and becoming conscious of his status as an “other” amidst enlightened, rational, European society. The “cursory” history that the monster receives laments the “slothful Asiatics” but lauds the “stupendous genius and mental activity of the Grecians and the “wars and wonderful virtue of the early Romans” (108). The phrase “wars and wonderful virtue” is both odd and surprising because the monster’s characterization of the Romans suggests that war itself is virtuous and noble, and that somehow the mighty empire of the Romans resulted from these wars.

The conflict in this passage then emerges between a binary approach between the East and the West to post-colonialism and one that is defined by cultural multiplicity. As the monster himself becomes conscious that he typifies the paradigmatic other in society, he internalizes his lesser status as absolute. The paradox then remains that even though this “cursory knowledge of history” should theoretically be enlightening and allow the monster to break free of the shackles imposed upon him, his adoption of this Eurocentric approach still renders him an outsider and incapable of alleviating his subjugation (108). The monster “wept with Safie over the hapless fate of its [the American hemisphere’s] original inhabitants” because she also typifies the other as she is the oriental Turkish woman who comes to live with the de Lacey family to become westernized and taught the history, culture, and mannerisms of the ostensibly superior West (108). While both of these “others” weep for the victims of European imperialism, they fail to form a collective “other” identity and remain essentially incompatible as Safie runs away from the cottage screaming when she catches sight of the monster. Instead of totalizing the “other” into a single category, a range of different cultural identities emerges, none that are necessarily dominant or compatible.

Gaytri Spivak, a postcolonial scholar, defines what she refers to as the subaltern classes as those which lack a voice and remain oppressed by the colonial gaze, a gaze that delegitimizes indigenous culture and theory. Volney’s Ruins of Empires was “framed in imitation of the Eastern authors” and thus represents the cultural hybridity and multiplicity that has become associated with post-colonialism, as both the colonizer and the colonizer adapt and synthesize cultural, linguistic, and other structural elements from each other. Even the monster subtly highlights this when he first refers to the “empires at present existing in the world” but then goes on to discuss the “nations of the earth” (108). By equating a nation with an empire, the monster categorizes colonized subjects as being part of the nation and thus the nation becomes transnational in the sense that the colonizer and colonized adopt each other’s cultural norms and practices. Spivak highlights this multiplicity when she refers to “transnational literacy”, or a “reshaping of institutional knowledge away from European nation-based formations to a study of the multiplicity of languages and cultures in the world” (http://www.globalautonomy.ca/global1/glossary_pop.jsp?id=CO.0065). This affirms Spivak’s emphasis on the heterogeneous and fragmented positions that the subaltern classes are forced into and the infiltration of the colonizer into the colonized. Subalternity then, according to Spivak, is not merely being oppressed but being unable to truly voice the truth of its oppression and discuss the state of its being. While the monster certainly adopts the linguistic prowess of Safie and Felix, he nevertheless represents the foreign colonized woman because he is not allowed to use his voice to speak up and tell his story and whenever he attempts to do so, he is rebuffed and silenced because of his horrifying aspect. Safie’s reaction at the sight of the monster, which resembles the subaltern, breaks the myth of a unified feminist movement that is inclusive of both the European woman and the foreign, colonized woman. This “hegemonic feminist” narrative in fact continues the colonialist process by allowing the Eurocentric, patriarchal order typified by Felix ongoing hegemony. The recurrent motif in this passage then becomes the monster’s praiseworthy tone towards everything Western. Felix’s instruction, the book Volney’s Ruins of Empires, the genius and mental activity of the Grecians, and the wonderful virtue of the early Romans are all celebrated, while the monster fails to understand that the ideology that he is importing into his own psyche was primarily responsible for the demise of the native inhabitants of the American hemisphere that he comes to identify with so closely. 

Advertisements